Whether you are looking for vans, pickup trucks, medium-duty models, and more, recent research shows that fleets aren't just window shopping but ready to make those purchases!   -  Photo: Work Truck

Whether you are looking for vans, pickup trucks, medium-duty models, and more, recent research shows that fleets aren't just window shopping but ready to make those purchases! 

Photo: Work Truck

In today's commercial vehicle sector, staying ahead means keeping a finger on the industry's pulse — something fleet managers know all too well. From the demand surges and supply chain hiccups to the front lines of evolving tech and green initiatives, the landscape is shifting beneath our wheels.

Whether you manage a fleet that cruises city streets or travels backroads, find out more about how today's fleet managers can optimize their operations for resilience, efficiency, and a greener tomorrow.

In a recent Commercial Truck Trader & Equipment Trader study, many commercial shoppers shared they are no longer just “window shopping.” They are ready to make a purchase.

When exploring the purpose behind vehicle searches, 40% sought units for professional use, 30% for personal endeavors, 16% for professional government use, and 13% for personal and professional purposes. 

Trader Interactive's Director of OEM Strategic Initiatives, Charles Bowles, shares what this means for commercial fleets.

Pent-Up Demand & High Buyer Intent

What does the high percentage of commercial shoppers ready to make a purchase indicate about the industry's current state?

“Pent-up demand and replacement demand are two primary factors driving a higher level of buyer intent. With several years of inventory availability lagging behind demand, we’re seeing buyers farther down the sales funnel when viewing listings on Commercial Truck Trader. In other words, we’re seeing fewer “tire kickers” and more committed buyers. 92% of our site visitors stated they were motivated buyers looking to make a purchase,” Bowles explained.

He added that borrowing continues to be expensive because of high interest rates, which can impede first-time buyers and borrowers with marginal credit scores.

“Dealers who have good relationships with their local lenders and their captive financial institutions can leverage that to help close deals that may otherwise be unobtainable,” he said.

How can fleet managers capitalize on this trend?

“Smart fleet managers are planning purchases farther out than in the past. Also, they are utilizing their accounts to take advantage of tax code opportunities such as Sections 179 and 168,” Bowles said.

Key Factors Driving Brand & Model Preference

The ability to work hand-in-hand with dealers who understand and are deeply integrated into the specifics of one's business can be the difference between merely operating and excelling in fleet management.

“Fleet managers need to work closely with dealers who understand their business. This is crucial in determining the precise vehicle specifications necessary. A good dealer can help the fleet manager determine whether leasing or outright purchases make the most sense for that business,” he said.

In today's market, truck quality is at an all-time high, making brand selection a more nuanced decision than ever before.

“One positive aspect of our industry today is that truck manufacturers make really good trucks. Brand selection is important, but so is the dealership. Maintenance and service are crucial to fleets. Dealerships dedicated to commercial vehicles will have certified and available technicians to get vehicles back on the road quickly,” Bowles said.

Buyer behavior has shifted dramatically since the pandemic exploded. In-person interactions have dwindled with more people preferring email communications.   -  Photo: Work Truck

Buyer behavior has shifted dramatically since the pandemic exploded. In-person interactions have dwindled with more people preferring email communications. 

Photo: Work Truck

The Impact of COVID-19 on Commercial Purchases

The trends shaping the commercial truck industry in 2024 are influenced by a combination of factors, including buyer demand, economic conditions, technological adoption, and industry-specific challenges.

Bowles said, “The industry is currently undergoing a course correction related to inventory and pricing, which may pose additional challenges for dealers navigating ever-shifting residual values.”

Buyer behavior has shifted dramatically since the pandemic exploded.

“Specifically, buyers rely much more on online research before contacting a seller. The changes are quite striking when we compare consumer surveys conducted in 2019 to those in 2023. In 2019, 53% of respondents preferred in-person communication with dealers, making it the top choice compared to digital options such as phone, email, and text,” Bowels said.

But fast forward to 2023, and there has been a significant shift.

“In-person interactions have dwindled, with only 11% expressing this preference and email communication soaring to 44%. Phone calls and text messaging followed at 23% and 12% of consumers, respectively,” Bowles said.

Every fleet manager is also a consumer in their off time, and business behaviors are often mirrored.

Balancing Durability with Sustainability

Commercial fleet managers are tasked today with ensuring their vehicles are durable, reliable, and increasingly sustainable.

“We’ve seen that the interest in electric vehicles continues, albeit at a slower than forecasted rate. It all depends on the use cases. Middle-mile and last-mile delivery companies are seeing the benefits of EVs, and it makes sense because most of their drivers are generating about the same predictable mileage daily. Hence, it’s easier to plan for charging,” Bowles added. “As climate change impacts how we manufacture vehicles to meet our needs, we’ll continue to see efforts to use alternative fuels such as hydrogen, propane, biodiesel, natural gas, and electric hybrids.”

Tips for Fleet Dealers

Understanding the market dynamics truck dealers are selling into is critical to capturing opportunities. Bowles shared two important pieces of data that drive smart decision-making:

  1. What are prospective buyers searching for, and
  2. How many of those units are available within the market?

“Our backend tool, Trader Traxx, enables sellers to view that information. For instance, if the data shows a considerable number of searches for landscaper trucks and there are not enough in the market to meet that demand, it could spell an opportunity to put more of that category of unit in inventory to drive more sales,” Bowles said.

In addition, municipal sales can be a lucrative yet complex opportunity.

“Understanding the bidding process is essential to winning the contract. But that’s not the only important component in winning municipal contracts. The fleet salesperson needs to have a relationship with the buyer to ensure that they are putting forth the correct vehicles for that municipality's needs and requirements,” Bowles said.

Bowles also shared that, contrary to what many OEMs and dealers may believe, the primary driver in searches for professional (commercial) vehicles is the category, job, or application associated with a vehicle.

Secondary considerations will then include the chassis cab manufacturer and the body manufacturer.

“However, commercial buyers search initially by category, job, or application, so fleet salespeople must focus on those aspects when building descriptions of commercial vehicle listings. Also, detailed specifications must be enumerated within that listing so that the buyer can obtain a highly accurate understanding of the unit. When publishing listings on a dealer’s website or a marketplace such as Commercial Truck Trader, it’s important to post photos of the vehicle in action. In other words, if the fleet salesperson sells a truck with a dump body, show photos of that vehicle with the bed raised. The same is true for utility and service body vehicles - show the drawers opened, the liftgate, and other important features,” Bowles said.

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor - Fleet, Trucking & Transportation

Lauren Fletcher is Executive Editor for the Fleet, Trucking & Transportation Group. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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